Will the Manly Sea Eagles soar in 2011?

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After winning the 2008 NRL Grand Final by a record 40-0 margin against rivals the Melbourne Storm, the Manly Sea Eagles seemed like they were on the verge of building a dynasty to rival their successful teams of the 1970’s.

No one would have predicted the chain of events that would occur to bring the proud club crashing down from their grand final high.

Off the field altercations involving high-profile players Brett Stewart, Anthony Watmough and Steve Matai as well as boardroom dramas with owners Scott Penn and Max Delmege had the Sea Eagles on the back page for all the wrong reasons.

After going down in the first round of the semi-finals in 2009, the Sea Eagles looked to put it all behind them and go forward in 2010. They had to do it without playmaker Matt Orford, second-rower Glenn Hall and hooker Heath L’Estrange who all decided to ply their trade over in the U.K. Super League.

Manly’s bad luck started early with season-ending injuries to star fullback Brett Stewart and winger David Williams. Manly had a great start of the season winning six of their first nine matches.

However an alarming trend developed in the three losses – squandering half-time leads.

They battled with consistency throughout the season but provided a couple of sublime performances for their fans at Fortress Brookvale. Wins against St. George-Illawarra (24-6) and Melbourne Storm (26-6) were season highlights for the Brookie faithful and kept them within striking distance of a top four position.

The Eagles scraped into eighth position after losing three of their final four matches including another second-half capitulation against the Roosters. After dominating the first 40 minutes and leading 14-6 at half-time, Manly let the Roosters score 24 unanswered points losing the pivotal match 30-14.

With injuries and suspension causing major changes to the regular side, they bowed out in week one of the finals, going down 28-0 to the eventual champions, St. George-Illawarra at WIN Jubilee.

Manly 2011 Depth Chart

Props
Starter: Jason King & Brent Kite
Depth: Matt Cross, George Rose, Tim Robinson

With the loss of Josh Perry, 2008 Clive Churchill Medal winner Brent Kite will now be required to start up-front with captain Jason King in the front row. King had another solid year for the Eagles, winning his second consecutive Best and Fairest award. However, ‘Kingy’ will need to cut down on conceding penalties in 2011 after being pulled up for 17 infringements in 2010 (equal 7th most in the NRL)

Matt Cross could be a surprise this year. In his first season with the club, Cross played 16 matches and scored three tries. He has a similar game to that of former Titans teammates Matt White and Luke Bailey. Cross is also pretty handy with the bat, smashing 63 off 44 balls in Manly’s victory over the Wests Tigers in their annual 20/20 cricket match. Look for him and ‘Gorgeous’ George Rose to step up in Perry’s absence.

Hooker
Starter: Matt Ballin
Depth: Terrence Seu Seu

It was a big 2010 for the Manly rake. Ballin got his first taste of Origin football replacing the injured Cam Smith in the Queensland side in Game 1. He was one of only three Eagles to play in all 25 games. Ballin asserted himself as one of the league’s top tacklers recording 914 and averaging just over 37 per game, placing him 4th in the NRL.

With the loss of Matt Orford, Ballin provided some solid kicking from dummy-half and even connecting on a 40/20. He will need to keep improving and show leadership, helping take the load off the rookie halfback Dale Cherry-Evans.

Second Rowers
Starters: Shane Rodney & Anthony Watmough
Depth: Joe Galuvao, Daniel Harrison, Darcy Lussick, Vic Mauro

Anthony Watmough’s season was plagued by injury. It seemed as though the NSW & Australian representative played throughout 2010 with a serious of foot and ankle problems.

It really affected his game especially his signature runs where he was significantly down in metres, tackle busts and line-breaks. His frustrating season could have been the reason why the Australian representative was tied with Warriors pivot James Maloney in conceding the most penalties (25) in the NRL.

His second-row partner, Shane Rodney was a great surprise for Manly last year. He was able to lock down the second-rower position left vacant by Glenn Hall’s departure. Rodney provided help for his front row, averaging 14 runs per game and barely making a mistake, conceding only four errors throughout the season. His goal-kicking was an added bonus after Jamie Lyon sprained his ankle in a Round 12 victory against the Cowboys.

Manly have some decent depth in the back row with veteran Joe Galuvao and promising youngsters Daniel Harrison, Darcy Lussick and Vic Mauro.

Lock
Starter: Glenn Stewart
Depth: Jamie Buhrer

Stewart was missed down the stretch, missing their final two matches with losses to Canterbury and St. George-Illawarra. Initially signed as a throw-in deal with brother Brett back in 2002, Glenn has become one of Manly’s most reliable and hardworking players since getting the chance to play regular football in 2007.

Stewart will most likely give you 80 minutes and at least 25 tackles. One of many Manly players who had career years in 2008 but have struggled to re-create that form, the return of brother Brett may just be the spark that gets this former Australian representative back on track.

Halves
Starters: Kieran Foran & Dale Cherry-Evans
Depth: Gary Riccardi

Kieran Foran will look to improve on a successful 2010, where he was selected to represent New Zealand in the ANZAC Test and Four Nations series. In his first full season, Foran showed great composure and played like an NRL veteran.

The Kiwi crossed for four tries and possessed solid playmaking skills generating 11 line break assists and 17 try assists. His play and combination with rookie Hodkinson had the Eagles over achieving throughout the season with such a young halves combination.

Rookie Dale Cherry-Evans comes into the halves with the departure of Hodkinson. Cherry-Evans followed the exact path as Hodkinson, with both players coming from their feeder club, Sunshine Coast Eagles in the Queensland Cup.

With a combined total of 32 first grade games (32 – Foran, 0 – DCE) Manly will again possess the least-experienced halves combination in the NRL. Jamie Lyon has the ability to play five-eighth if required and Kieran’s brother Liam has been signed from the Roosters as an option at halfback.

Wingers
Starters: Michael Robertson & David Williams
Depth: Tony Williams, Michael Oldfield

Robertson was again one of Manly’s solid performers in 2010. Playing on the wing and filling in at the back with the injury to Brett Stewart, Robertson played in all 25 games and scored 11 tries. Robbo came over from Canberra in 2006 and has made 129 consecutive appearances since debuting in round two that season.

‘The Wolfman’, David Williams will slot back into the right wing after missing the whole of 2010 with a shoulder injury. However, that return could be delayed after a hamstring injury in a trial to the Warriors.

Manly have solid depth out on the wings. Tony Williams had his best season to date. T-Rex was Manly’s top tryscorer in 2010 with 16 four-pointers and proved a hard man to stop, leading the NRL in tackle busts with 147. Williams is likely become an important player for Manly in 2011.

Coach Des Hasler will have the option of using Williams as an interchange to cover not only the wing position, but also the centres and back-row. Rookie Michael Oldfield impressed in his first three games in the top grade last season and will be itching to get a start.

Centres
Starters: Steve Matai, Jamie Lyon
Depth: Tony Williams, Dean Whare

Probably their most talented player, Jamie Lyon will be crucial to the success of the Sea Eagles in 2011. His versatility – ability to play in the centres and at five-eighth, goal-kicking and experience makes him one of Des Hasler’s first selected. He has that match-winning quality that only a handful of players possess. Lyon will be coming off a career year where he scored 11 tries and kicked 69 goals for a total of 182 points.

Steve Matai who tends to miss games due to injury or suspension, had one of his best seasons so far playing in 21 games for the Eagles, and scoring a personal best 14 tries. Unfortunately some poor discipline in a heated final game of the regular season cost Matai a chance to play in the finals. The Kiwi international received a seven-match ban for a late hit on Bulldogs hooker Michael Ennis which will rule him out up until round five.

Dean Whare scored three tries on debut against the Cowboys. It was the first time a Sea-Eagle scored a hat-trick on debut since legend Ken Irvine achieved the feat in 1971. He will fill in respectably whilst Matai sits on the sidelines. Some outstanding play could force Hasler to switch Lyon to the halves to accomodate his talents.

Fullback
Starter: Brett Stewart
Depth: William Hopoate

The return of Stewart will be a major boost for the club. After two knee surgeries, reports suggest that ‘The Snake’ is nearly running at full speed. Stewart holds an incredible strike rate, scoring 98 tries in only 118 matches. If Stewart hasn’t already cracked the ton in after their first two matches, then their round three home opener against the Knights could have a double celebration for the fan favourite. It will be Stewart’s first match at Brookie in 18 months.

William Hopoate son of former Eagles winger John had a good debut in 2010. The 18-year-old showed that he can play at fullback after a solid appearance at the back in the 26-6 win against the Storm.

Looking ahead for 2011

Manly will benefit from the return of Stewart and Williams however they still managed without their repesentative duo last season. Their long-term injuries allowed players such as Dean Whare, Michael Oldfield and William Hopoate to get a taste of first grade and give the Eagles a talented base of young outside backs that would be the envy of most NRL teams.

Manly were first-half specialists, who rarely went into half time trailling in 2010. They were the NRL’s most potent side in the first fourty minutes, scoring 361 points. It was a different story in the second stanza where they consistently struggled to close out matches, scoring an NRL worst 181 points. Manly’s second half attack or lack thereof may have been a direct link to their poor discipline and fitness.

Manly gave away an average of 6.3 penalties per game – three of their forwards (Watmough, King and Stewart) were in the top 15 penalised players and with Steve Matai’s current seven-game suspension, makes it evident that they should be clean up their discipline and relationship with the referees.

Manly were one the quieter teams with regards to recruitment. Their forward pack, which has been arguably the best in recent years has taken a hit with the loss of Perry and Bailey.

Gone are the Delmege/Meyer days of the ‘marquee signings’ of the mid-2000’s where players like Brent Kite, Ben Kennedy, Matt Orford, Steve Bell and Jamie Lyon were lured to the club with massive contracts. It could possibly outline some financial issues with the club rather than Des Hasler and Manly management having faith in the current squad.

Manly have no better test to start the season than the challenge of travelling to AAMI Park for a first round encounter against rivals Melbourne Storm, who have been anticipating the start to the 2011 season after being basically shutdown in competing in the 2010 NRL season after being found to have breached the NRL’s salary cap over a number of seasons.

It will be a tough year for the Eagles to keep up with the rest of the league with most teams improving their squads in the off-season. In what looks to be a tight 2011 season, Manly will struggle to make their eighth consecutive finals series.

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